Everyone has quirks. Ev-er-y-one. Right? Of course.
Okay. Writers may take those quirks to a new level, but still… Join in the fun as my friend, Michael Ehret,
exposes shares some of the quirks of both himself and his author friends.
But first, some book fun! My alter ego Jennifer Slattery’s latest release Intertwined is on sale (paperback version!) for $6.78! That’s 58% off the regular price! Get it HERE and read the first 2 chapters for free HERE. Aaaaannnnnd, my latest release, Breaking Free, is on sale (paperback version) for $4.21! Get it HERE!
Quirky Is As Quirky Does
by Michael Ehret
I have this thing about time.
My alarm is set for 5:38 a.m. (Sundays 7:53 a.m.). If recipe directions say bake for 25-30 minutes, I’ll pick 26, 27, 28, or 29—but not 25 or 30—minutes.
When I warm my coffee in the microwave, I use one minute and two seconds.
Never, ever, do I set things for exactly on the hour or half hour.
Is that a quirk? I can’t explain it. But when I’ve tried to overcome it, I usually fail.
We all have quirks—at least all writers I know do. I have many, like the time thing, that aren’t related to my writing, but two are specifically writing related:
- I cannot write fiction if I’m dressed in the clothes I wear to my job as a Communications Manager at a bank. The clothes I’m in are part of my clue to myself that I can play now.
- I cannot write if anyone else is in the same room. If my wife walks in the room while I’m writing, poof!, the creativity is gone.
Let me clarify. I’m not talking about Monk-like OCD compulsions, but little idiosyncrasies that make us who we are. That make us the people we are.
For instance, best-selling author and three-time Christy Award finalist Deborah Raney has two interesting quirks.
“My main quirk is that I can’t write until the bed is made (first thing when I crawl out of it) and until there are NO dirty dishes in the sink. We have a deep sink and it could be pretty full and I wouldn’t even see the dishes until I got right up to the sink, but I know they are there and they must be out of that sink before I can write.”
James L. Rubart, author of The Five Times I Met Myself, the Christy Award’s 2016 Book of the Year, cannot write a first draft without Jumbo-sized David’s Sunflower Seeds—“and no, I don’t eat them any other time,” Jim said.
“Oh, I make all kinds of little rules for myself,” Terrie said. “Like, if I get up by 5:45 to spend an hour writing before I have to go to my day job, I am allowed a cup of my favorite coffee. No writing = no coffee.
“Of course, that leads to, um, as any coffee drinker knows, the need to pass water—which is also a great incentive if I make a rule that I have to finish this paragraph before I am allowed to go … go.”
Romantic suspense author Robin Caroll, author of The Justice Seekers series, is paralyzed in her first draft without one key element. “I have to have a title or I can’t write a single word,” Robin said. “And I can’t simply use Untitled or Title or anything like that. My mind demands the book be named before I give it life.”
Recognizing that we all have quirks helps writers create characters that readers like you love—characters who live, albeit sometimes bizarrely, on the page.
Have you read Dean Koontz’ books Fear Nothing (1997) and Seize the Night (1998)? Christopher Snow is the protagonist and he has xeroderma pigmentosum, or XP, a rare genetic disorder that requires him to avoid ultraviolet light (daylight).
Not exactly a quirk, but throughout the novels Christopher’s condition creates, necessarily, interesting quirks that contribute to the books’ plots in ways that would make the books impossible without them.
Another great example is the character of Uriah Heep in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield. Heep was a greedy man whose quirk was rubbing his hands together as he spoke, as if gleefully anticipating how he was going to cheat someone. Or was he subconsciously wiping his hands of the dirty money he blackmails his boss for? See how this little quirk can deepen characters?
Up the tension or drama
In my current manuscript, one of the characters has a habit of clicking his ballpoint pen when he’s nervous. Okay, maybe not highly original or even all that unusual. But, in a key scene his quirk becomes a way to drive the scene and increase the pace to a frantic pitch. If you ever get the opportunity to read it (assuming I publish it), you’ll find other judicious use of quirks, too.
Quirks are another tool in this writer’s toolbox. I look for them everywhere! As you read your favorite author’s books, see if you can identify the quirks they’ve used to make their characters real. You’ll know if the author has overdone it, however, because the character will seem cartoonish to you.
- What’s your favorite character quirk you’ve read about? Why did it work so well?
- What is your quirk that makes you who you are?
Michael Ehret has accepted God’s invitation and is a freelance editor at WritingOnTheFineLine.com. In addition, he’s worked as editor-in-chief of the ACFW Journal at American Christian Fiction Writers. He pays the bills as a marketing communications writer and sharpened his writing and editing skills as a reporter for The Indianapolis News and The Indianapolis Star.